France-Soir, once one of France's most widely read dailies but now an influential blip in the French media landscape, was recently purchased by the 25-year-old son of a Russian billionaire Alexander Pugachyov. Pugachyov has put a 50 million euro bet on the newpaper in hopes to return it to its former glory.
The paper, launched in 1944, once reigned as France's fourth most popular daily with a circulation of more than 1 million copies at its peak. It has since fallen into obscurity, and before Pugachyov's investment it employed only 40 reporters with a much-diminished daily circulation of 23,000 copies.
Pugachyov has since expanded the newsroom to 100 reporters and is beginning a 20 million euro advertising campaign in the hopes of improving France-Soir's circulation to a robust 150,000 to 200,000 copies. The paper will spare no expense to improve its standing, as Pugachyov plans to emphasize original photography, despite the costs that may incur.
The son of Russian banking and shipbuilding billionaire Sergey Pugachyov can have little to gain from his revamp of Paris-Soir--the paper is not well enough known to offer him influence over the population, and it is not likely to be a money-maker. It is likely that this is to serve as experience for the younger Pugachyov before he takes over his father's business.
"I am neither a volunteer nor a patron," the younger Pugachyov has claimed when asked about his purchase of the daily.
Another Russian billionaire who also recently bought two European newspapers, both in the UK, seems to be of the same mind as the younger Pugachyov.
"This is a good way to waste money."
The altruism of Russian billionaires is a surprising buoy for newspapers drowning in debt. Time will tell if their unexpected benevolence hides more sinister motives or is just a product of affection for the printed word.